“I believe that man will not merely endure: he will prevail,” William Faulkner said in his Nobel Prize acceptance speech in 1950. The great Southern author continued, “He is immortal, not because he alone among creatures has an inexhaustible voice, but because he has a soul, a spirit capable of compassion and sacrifice and endurance.”
From this quote derives the brand name of Prevail Coffee Roasters, the new outfit behind the Prevail Union coffee shop in Auburn, Ala., that aims not only to join in the elevation of craft coffee throughout the state and the region, but to revitalize the often dwindling heart of small-town America.
“I think we need more folks doing really good work in small towns,” Prevail Co-founder and Head Roaster Wade Preston told Daily Coffee News. “We want to be a part of authentic American cafes, in these hundred-thousand, two-hundred-thousand markets. The smaller, underserved markets where the downtown core has sort of disintegrated and everything’s pushed out to the interstate.”
Preston sites the Nelsonville, Wis.-based wholesale and online retail company Ruby Coffee Roasters as an example of a quality-focused coffee company thriving in a small town, and the Griffin, Ga. roastery café Safehouse Coffee Roasters as an inspiration for the ideal, quality-focused small-town coffee shop. “There’s been this real revitalization of downtown areas in smaller towns, and I think those downtown areas need café spaces,” said Preston. “That’s the heart of what we’re trying to do with the Union brand — to go into those places.”
Therefore while the “prevail” reference speaks at once to the entrepreneurial spirit, the revitalization of local economies and the importance of ethical and equitable sourcing practices, the “union” idea speaks directly to community. “We want the cafes to be a community space that brings a lot things together,” said Preston, whose current and theoretical future shops offer not only craft coffee and Fair Trade retail goods, but also craft beer, sustainably-grown wines, and an atmosphere bolstered by a sense of local identity.
The Prevail Union shop in Auburn quietly incorporates an organized labor-style chapter number in its signage — AUB 101 — indicating that as this figurative social union spreads, it won’t be opening new branches or locations as much as each new store will be a unique and active chapter, with its own chapter number, that exists to serve and support its local community. “If we opened a shop in Montgomery, it would be the 102, and it would have its own branding and its own style,” said Preston. “It would be owned and operated by people who were part of that community and care about that community. We’d make sure that it was doing a service to that community, not just another facsimile of something that worked well somewhere else.”
Originally, the Prevail Union coffee shop was a third outpost of the Wake Up Coffee brand, which has two older locations in neighboring Georgia. Formerly a resident of north Florida near the original location of Wake Up, Preston had grown close with Wake Up founder Bo Mann before moving to Atlanta and finding specialty coffee work with Batdorf & Bronson, eventually helping to establish B&B’s Dancing Goats Coffee Bar at the Ponce Market in Atlanta.
Preston and his wife Megan decided to break out on their own and co-found a shop in Auburn by Preston’s alma mater of Auburn University, and so it was natural to partner with their old friend Mann and extend the brand with which they were familiar and of which they were fans.
Though each party owned its own shops and operated autonomously, they also enjoyed some economy of scale in ordering bulk supplies as well as durable Fair Trade goods, such as jewelry and clothing, for sale in their onsite Fair Trade retail marketplaces. Preston’s Auburn Wake Up served some coffee roasted by Mann in Georgia while also sourcing some from Sweet Bloom Coffee Roasters, although as demand for outstanding coffee in the underserved college town caught fire, it was an opportunity for expansion into wholesale that the Prestons decided to seize, which precipitated a genuinely amicable departure into the two distinct and now unrelated companies.
The Prevail Coffee Roasters production space is now centered on a 25-pound-capacity San Franciscan roaster that went live over the summer, and an accompanying 1-pound profile roaster of the same brand, both standing inside a railroad freight depot building in neighboring Opelika, Ala.. “It’s a great building to roast coffee in. It’s everything you want. Brick walls, metal roof, high ceilings, not a lot of combustible materials,” said Preston. “Somebody was trying to talk us into moving out of there to somewhere else that would be more of retail space, saying ‘you need to show this roaster off,’ and I said ‘No man, this is the dream. This is where you want to roast coffee.'”
Apart from his flourishing business in Auburn, Preston sees a regional coffee scene on the rise, which he hopes Prevail can join and perhaps galvanize into something more collectively visible to the rest of the specialty scene in the US. “We want to be a part of that groundswell of really good southern roasters that are coming up,” said Preston, citing the Beanfruit Coffee Company of Jackson, Miss., the Athens, Ga. company 1000 Faces Coffee and Atlanta’s Octane Coffee as some particularly admirable colleagues, among others.
The speculative Montgomery chapter may become a reality sooner rather than later, as a Prevail Union coffee pop-up started last month in the A&P Courtyard in Montgomery, where it will run through the end of the year. The pop-up is helmed by Prevail Lead Barista Jason Mundie, previously of Counter Culture and Land of a Thousand Hills Coffee Company. Together, Mundie and Preston will be representing Prevail as competitors in the upcoming US Coffee Championships Qualifying Event in Kansas City, MO in February, 2016.